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The Connection Shared By Clinton Park, a Sweetheart Wife, and Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church
By Mitchell M. Allen
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2013 Mitchell M. Allen, Ed.D.
All rights reserved.
THE CLINTON PARK EXPERIENCES
LOCATION AND HISTORY
The Clinton Park community is a very small neighborhood located in the eastern part of Houston, Texas near the Port of Houston and 610 Loop. During the early 1940s, my parents took advantage of the opportunity to buy a home in this little community, built exclusively for Blacks in segregated Houston. Wikipedia.org/wiki/Clinton_Park,_Houston (Retrived, March 15, 2010) states that;
"After World War II Development in the area began due to the area's close proximity to the Port of Houston. Clinton Park was one of the first communities developed for African-Americans in Texas. When it was first developed, Laws required segregation between White people and Black people: Blacks could not live in White neighborhoods. Clinton Park had many businesses."
The neighborhood had many amenities, including an elementary school, a park with a swimming pool, fire station, churches, barbershop, grocery store, drugstore, and a movie theater. The area was so small; you could walk from one end to the other in a matter of minutes (See map of Clinton Park on the next page). The City of Houston buses came through to transport those who desired to travel downtown or other parts of Houston. Clinton Park consisted of fifteen (15) streets as follows:
De Haven St.
North Carolina St.
Rhode Island St.
Clinton Park Ave. Mississippi St. Zachary St.
Most of the adults did not have to leave the neighborhood except to go to work and the children had to attend junior and senior high schools in Fifth Ward.
LOVE THOU NEIGHBOR
An ancient African proverb teaches IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD. Clinton Park was a community where love existed in and among families. Any adult could correct any child without the worry about the parent's objection or resentment. I never shall forget the chastisement I received after my good friend told my mother that I roughed him up. Well, I did slightly push him in a playful manner without inflicting harm, nevertheless, my mother believed his story. Adults and children had disagreement and some fights, however, there always seemed to be a solution, different from some of the problems that occurred in some of the surrounding communities.
TRUST THOU NEIGHBOR
Trust was an important principle in the neighborhood, which made it unique from most neighborhoods. It was safe to leave your house and car doors unlocked without fear of an intruder. My parents would let their children sleep all night on the front porch and allow other kids to join them. Murder and rape were unheard of in the community; occasionally, outsiders would come in and commit crime.
Clinton Park Elementary School
Attending Clinton Park Elementary School included a joyful walk with my Armstrong Street friends, until one Christmas my parent bought me a bicycle to ride to school. I felt very important because some kids did not have bikes; however, I was hurt when someone stole my bicycle from the park one summer. The park consisted of a swimming pool, which permitted individuals to use the facility that did not live in Clinton Park. Most of these people lived in Fidelity, a community adjacent to Clinton Park on the east side. I am sure one of the Fidelity kids stole my bike; nevertheless, my brother found and brought it back to me with a warning concerning callousness.
My grades in elementary school were not great because I spent a lot of my time drawing pictures and talking to classmates while the teacher was lecturing, which caused me to experience harsh responses from my teacher and mother. For some reason, the classroom did not interest me enough to be pursued in the same way as the recess and physical education periods. The best moments I had in elementary school were playing softball and participating in the closing ceremony at the end of the school year.
Playing softball allowed me to demonstrate my ability to run (faster than most of my classmates), catch balls, and put out opposing players. Every time I had a chance to participate in a physical activity, I would put my heart, soul, and mind into it to display my greatest effort. I was proud that I could excel in something at school because my ability to read and recite information in the classroom was minimal, at best. My silent prayer would always be that the teacher did not call my name because I did not feel comfortable responding.
The ceremony at the end of the school year was an exciting event for me for several reasons. First, school was closing for three (3) months, and I did not have to study for examinations, homework, and recitations. Secondly, my mom was going to purchase a new outfit, which usually included jeans, a cowboy shirt and hat, and a bandanna for me to wear in the ceremony. I really loved to tie the bandanna (a large, colored handkerchief, usually red with a figure or pattern) around my neck. During the 1940s, cowboy movies were a part of my life, including "Cisco Kid" and "Roy Rogers," who wore bandannas.
The third reason I received pleasure from being a part of the end of the year ceremony was I had a chance to square dance with one of the girls at school. I had some very beautiful female classmates at Clinton Park Elementary School; two girls in particular were gorgeous, academically astute and well dressed. Several times, I desired to express my feelings to them, but I did not have the courage because I thought that my classroom blunders and looks (not so handsome) would resulting negative responses. As school closed, ending the 5th and 6th years, I was thrilled to participate in the end of the year ceremonies; the teacher selected me to dance with one of these girls the 5th year and the other my last, 6th year.
E. O. SMITH JUNIOR HIGH SCHOOL
I made an adjustment because the experience at E. O. Smith Junior High School was enormously different from what I received at Clinton Park Elementary School. For the first time I was attending school with students other than those living in the small community of Clinton Park. This school was located in the heart of Fifth Ward in a dreadfully old building, which previously housed Phyllis Wheatley Senior High School. The rest rooms, normally not kept clean, caused me to avoid using them until I could not resist the urge.
Attending this school required riding the school bus and taking classes with students from the several neighborhoods in and around Fifth Ward. In contrast to the commonality of my Clinton Park classmates, some of the students attending this school lived in government projects, apartments, rent houses, and homes with families of various income levels. There was not as much love shown among students and between teachers and students: you had to learn to secure your personal possessions because stealing was widespread. Most students had an assigned locker in the hallway near their homeroom to keep books, lunch, physical education clothes, and other personal items. Fighting was another problem that seemed to be encouraged by some of the kids, usually instigated by those living in the Fifth Ward neighborhood near the school. Some violent students attended this school, and I had to learn to associate with them while keeping a safe distance; on the other hand, there were gentle students I met and became their close friend.
Participating in sports was not an option because I did not feel comfortable practicing after school and finding a way home from the Fifth Ward Area. Choices of getting home were to ride with someone going to Clinton Park or catch the City Bus, which required riding to downtown and transferring to another City Bus to arrive at Clinton Park. I played baseball during the summers on Clinton Park teams against some of my classmate at E. O. Smith Junior High School. One group, or little band, I joined required each member to purchase a ukulele; it was hilarious to see and hear all the ukuleles making the same sound when we performed at assemblies that took place in the cafeteria, converted to an auditorium. I think we only had about five (5) notes to learn and rarely practiced before performing at an event.
Most grades I received were fair; the only two (2) classes I enjoyed and received good grades at E. O. Smith Junior High were physical education and mechanical drawing. I have always had a pleasurable experience drawing and participating in physical activities. Moreover, these classes did not require study or homework. Driver Education was another class I was excited to take one semester, because it led to getting my driver's license, even though I was driving long before I completed the class. My parents allowed me to drive in the small community of Clinton Park prior to receiving a driver's license.
PHILLIS WHEATLEY HIGH SCHOOL
In August 2009, I attended the "Class of '59 - 50th Year Class Reunion" and received a Souvenir Booklet that included an article entitled "A History of Phillis Wheatley High School" by Annie R. Stevenson-Stephens, June 1994. The article stated that:
"On January 31, 1929, Phillis Wheatley High School was established at 3415 Lyons. At that time, there were 19 teachers and approximately 490 students. Professor E. O. Smith was principal. During the following year it was decided that her colors would be purple and white, and that "Our Alma Mater," composed by Mrs. I. L. Smith and Mrs. Mattie Overton, would be the school song".
The Booklet also has pictures of Wheatley from 1927 to present as shown on the next page.
During the Class Reunion, I took a picture with three of my Clinton Park friends, who graduated in 1959 as shown below from left, Van L. Polk, III, Joseph B. Carper, Evelyn Aldridge Bilal and yours truly. We had a wonderful time discussing who has died, is still living, looks young, looks old (we are all now over 70), and who can still dance. Well, it did not surprise me that we never came to an agreement on most of the things discussed because, once again, pride interfered.
Adaptation to Wheatley was congenial and desired because the new environment presented more opportunities for me to express myself. Most of the students who graduated from E. O. Smith went to Wheatley because there were only three (3) Afro-American High Schools in the Houston Independent School District: Washington, Wheatley, and Yates. Blacks could not attend the other HISD schools due to segregation practices. I was acquainted with kids I met at E. O. Smith, and the relationship of some of my friends went back as far as pre-school days in Clinton Park.
Attending this school gave me confidence in my ability to excel in areas that I found of interest because students had a choice to select a few of their classes. I decided to join the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC), instead of taking Physical Education. I selected a one- semester class in "typing," which has been helpful until the present moment as I type this book. The reason I wanted to take this typing class was the teacher - a gorgeous young woman who had recently graduated from college. I successfully passed the class even though my obsession of her remained present; and, often, I concentrated more on her than the class instructions. The advanced mathematics course I took was algebra, which was beneficial to my progress in college. I think I had to take shop classes because of the poor grades I received in Junior High. I selected wood shop and mechanical drawing, two courses that proved an opportunity for me to excel. In fact, I entered a contest that required the drawing of a mechanism submitted and judged in Austin, Texas. To my surprise, I won a certificate for what I thought was a very simple drawing.
Joining the ROTC was the most rewarding experience I had at Wheatley, followed by playing on the baseball team. The ROTC corresponded to my persona perfectly because of my regimentation and belief in structure. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JROTC#History), states the objectives for each (JROTC) cadet to be:
Developing good citizenship and patriotism.
Developing self-reliance, leadership, and responsiveness to constituted authority.
Improving the ability to communicate well, both orally and in writing.
Developing an appreciation for the importance of physical fitness.
Increasing a respect for the role of the U.S. Armed Forces in support of national objectives.
Developing a knowledge of team building skills and basic military skills.
Taking 2 to 4 years of the course allows the cadets to instantly rank higher if they pursue a military career.
Most of the things that were required to be a good cadet in the ROTC were no stranger to me. I have always believed in obedience to authority, being a good citizen, physical fitness, teamwork, and, of course, dressing neatly and shining my shoes.
My first year in the ROTC, I joined the Drill Team, which required an enormous amount of practice and performance. Our uniform consisted of a white helmet, white gloves, combat boots, a purple scarf; and, additionally, we carried an M-1 rifle on our shoulders. We performed at the Wheatley football game half-time activities before or after the band. The Drill Team participated in competition agains to ther HISD high schools that had ROTC Programs. Wheatley was the first HISD Afro-American high school to have a ROTC program until the Fall of 1958; therefore, the aforementioned competition was against white schools.
I remember other activities ROTC cadets could volunteer for, including directing the traffic in front of Wheatley on Market Street in the mornings before school. This activity required blowing a whistle, holding up one hand, adorned with white gloves, to stop automobiles, and using the hand to signal safe movement for pedestrians. Raising, lowering, and properly folding (the military way) a large United States flag that hung in front of Wheatley was another activity I chose to participate in to be patriotic.
After completing the first year in the ROTC, I aspired to become an officer, wear a hat (only for officers), and earn as many ribbons and/or metals as possible to attach to my uniform. To be an officer, I had to maintain not less than a 3.00 GPA on a 5.00 scale, demonstrate good conduct, dress properly, and do well in my ROTC class work and non-academic activities. The only concern I had of being appointed an officer was not having a GPA at or above 3.00, which would require me to study more. Well, I was appointed to the level of Second Lieutenant, and, later, a Captain (Company Commander) of the class period I attended during my senior year. I was excited as shown by my smiling face on the picture below.
During the past few days, I found a folder my mom had saved over fifty (50) years ago, which included the aforementioned ROTC appointment certificates shown on the next two (2) pages.
After I joined the ROTC, my courage was so tremendous that I started talking more to girls and even began dating. I had no attachment to or serious feeling toward a particular female, because I did not provide the attention most Wheatley girls required. One beautiful young woman was an ROTC cadet and very attractive to me. I had a few telephone conversations with her and eventually visited her home and met her parents. Well, the relationship was progressing quite nicely, especially after we had a date. She had been dating a popular person that was on the football team. It was difficult for me to believe I had a chance to date her, even though I had become an officer in the ROTC.
I felt that the relationship with her was progressing nicely until one of my close friends told me that she was only dating me because I had access to my parents' car. After this revelation, I began to notice that she was requesting that I transport her too often and occasionally talking to her former boyfriend. The relationship deteriorated before it became serious; nevertheless, we remained friends.
Excerpted from ASTONISHING EXPERIENCES by Mitchell M. Allen. Copyright © 2013 Mitchell M. Allen, Ed.D.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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